2008 Mountain West Insider Spring Questions
Wyoming QB Karsten Sween
Wyoming QB Karsten Sween
Posted Mar 10, 2008

With spring ball kicking in, here are some of the Mountain West's key questions answered by the inside sources, the Scout publishers.

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Key Mountain West Questions Answered

- 2008 Mountain West Spring Analysis

Considering how loaded BYU appears to be, what’s the one thing standing in the way of going to the BCS?

From Matt Hodge, www.totalbluesports.com editor and publisher

The biggest obstacle that BYU faces next season is rebuilding a good portion of its defense.  Seven starters from last season have graduated.  That includes all four starters in the secondary (although one of them, safety Quinn Gooch, missed the last four games of the season due to injury) and three of the four starting linebackers.  Meanwhile, two of the three starters (defensive end Ian Dulan and nose guard Eathyn Manumaleuna, the latter of which blocked UCLA’s would-be winning field goal in the Las Vegas Bowl) on the defensive line will be taking a two-year break from football to serve missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The departing players accounted for 42 of the team’s 53 pass breakups and 15 of the 16 interceptions last season.  The offense next season will be loaded and experienced, but it wasn’t until BYU had a strong defense to go along with its strong offense that the program started winning again.  In Bronco Mendenhall’s first season as head coach, the defense was one of the worst in the country, and the team finished 6-6.  In the two seasons since that one, BYU’s defense, outside of a game or two, has been fantastic and has allowed the Cougars to finish with consecutive 11-2 records and top-15 rankings.

The dramatic turnaround two seasons ago coincided with the switch from a 3-3-5 defense to a 3-4-4 defense that took advantage of BYU’s deep and talented linebacker corps.  In addition, BYU hired Jaime Hill (who was just promoted to defensive coordinator) to be the secondary coach, and he has done a fantastic job.  By the end of this past season, BYU was starting four former walk-on defensive backs in the secondary (all of which had served church missions), yet still managed to finish 10th in total defense.

So, if the coaching staff can continue to make do with whomever they plug in the defensive backfield, that will go a long way towards ensuring BYU continues winning.  And while there appears to be some of the best talent and athleticism that the program has seen in the secondary in quite some time, the secondary will nevertheless be quite inexperienced next season, though the team does return Kellen Fowler, who filled in well for Gooch after his injury late in the season. 

As for replacing the two starters on the defensive line, that doesn’t appear to be too much of an issue.  The team will be returning starter Jan Jorgensen, who was fifth in the nation for sacks per game (14 total sacks on the season), as well as Brett Denney, a player that the coaches felt very comfortable with rotating in with the starters.  The Cougars will also be getting former starting nose guard Russell Tialavea back from injury after he missed all of last season.  Finally, the coaches have brought in two four-star JC defensive linemen in Tevita Hola and Bernard Afutiti.

Finally, the linebacker corps will return starter David Nixon, but has to replace the other three starters, two of which (Bryan Kehl and Kelly Poppinga) were team captains and great playmakers.  Like with the secondary, the linebacker corps will have to rely on former backups that played well when called upon and some promising - but unproven - athletes.

So to wrap it all up, the defense isn’t expected to be weak at all, and the 3-4-4 scheme and coaching staff as currently constituted have been very good to BYU’s defense.  But, there is something to be said for experience, and the defense as a whole will not be as experienced as it has been the past two seasons.  That means that the offense might have to carry the load more if there happens to be growing pains.  Sure, the defense could and probably should gel with the talent and coaching that BYU has, but with the current BCS system that allows virtually no room for error when it comes to non-BCS schools, and early non-conference games against UCLA at home and a possibly improving Washington team on the road (BYU has yet to win a non-conference road game under Coach Mendenhall), the defense better gel quickly.

What's the Wyoming quarterback situation? Is Karsten Sween going to progress into all his early career promise?

From Matt Willie, CowboyBlitz.com

Karsten Sween's starting job is definitely up for grabs right now.  UW coaches brought in both Dax Crum, a 4-star JUCO signal caller from Mesa Community College, and Adam Barry, a physically gifted gunslinger from Moorpark High School in Calif, this offseason.  In addition, they return Ian Hetrick, a senior who logged valuable playing time last year in relief of Sween, and Chris Stutzriem, a redshirt freshman who happened to be Oklahoma's top-ranked high school QB in 2006.

I had the chance to talk to Joe Glenn, the head coach, and Ron Wisniewski, the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, about the quarterback situation, and both of them said the competition for the starting job will be wide open this offseason.
Whether Sween emerges as the starter will depend, for the most part, on how he adapts to the new offense the Cowboys will be running next year. Glenn hired a new offensive coordinator/quarterback coach, Bob Cole, right after the season ended, and he will be installing a brand new system. That also levels the playing field somewhat, but Sween does have the most D-I experience of any of the team's QBs.
In my opinion, Sween will be the starter next year and will have a much more successful season.  After seeing what he did this year, it's easy to forget that this is the same guy that led Wyoming to five wins in just seven starts as a freshman.  The one thing that has been a consistent problem for him, however, has been protecting the football.  He threw 17 interceptions to just 12 touchdowns this season, and even back in 2006 he finished the year with eight picks and nine touchdowns.  The great thing is that if he can get on top of his interception problem, he could truly be one of the best gunslingers in the Mountain West Conference.  If all goes well, Bob Cole's new offense will be the right fit, Sween will bounce back in a big way, protect the football and lead the Pokes to bowl eligibility.  If he struggles, though, look for one of the team's other young signal callers to step in and take away his job.
I think the question of whether or not the Cowboys can bounce back from their second-half nosedive at the end of last year actually depends a lot on whether Sween can become the quarterback coaches thought he could after his freshman season.  The Pokes have traditionally boasted tough defenses in the Glenn era, and next year won't be an exception.  They lose just four defensive starters to graduation (cornerbacks Julius Stinson and Michael Medina and linebackers John Prater and Sean Claffey) and appear to have the depth to replace them without missing a beat.  More importantly, the offense will lose just three senior starters from last year (wide receivers Michael Ford and Hoost Marsh and tight end Wade Betschart).
With their returning talent, the Cowboys' main question marks will center around whether their starting quarterback can avoid turnovers and move the football consistently on offense.  If he does, there's no reason Wyoming shouldn't win at least seven games in '08.
On the other hand, there's no guarantees. All the more reason to watch, I guess.